Communion Of Dreams


A useful swarm.

Another interesting item about developing the technology to create a useful swarm of small robots:

Harvard Researchers Create a Nature-Inspired Robotic Swarm

Some scientists believe that the way to solve the flocking enigma is to replicate it. Researchers at Harvard University’s Wyss Institute and School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) recently developed a micro-scaled robotic technology that enables a controlled, flash mob–like assembly. In August, the team led by Harvard computer-science professors Radhika Nagpal and Fred Kavli demonstrated the ability of 1,000 robots to self-organize into user-selected shapes, such as a five-pointed starfish and the letter K.

* * *

“Increasingly, we’re going to see large numbers of robots working together, whether it’s hundreds of robots cooperating to achieve environmental cleanup or a quick disaster response, or millions of self-driving cars on our highways,” Nagpal said in the press release. “Understanding how to design ‘good’ systems at that scale will be critical.”

One provocative concept is the possibility of building and infrastructure construction that is carried out by thousands of self-organizing modules. Although many technical hurdles remain, this notion is especially intriguing in the case of hazardous and other challenging settings. In the near term, we will likely witness simple, one-story pavilions built from a collection of mobile robotic bricks to create emergency relief shelters following natural disasters.

Hmm … seems I’ve heard about that idea before someplace. Oh, yeah, from Communion of Dreams:

They were, in essence, enclosing the entire planet in a greenhouse of glass fabric and golden plasteel. It was going to take generations to finish, even using mass microbots and fabricating the construction materials from the Martian sands. Tens of thousands of the specially programmed microbots, a few centimeters long and a couple wide, would swarm an area, a carpet of shifting, building insects. As each cell was finished, it was sealed, joined to the adjacent cells, and then the microbots would move on.

But it is pretty cool to see the work being done to bring that about.

 

Jim Downey



Don’t think about it too much.

No doubt by now you’ve heard of the discovery of Dreadnoughtus schrani, the massive dinosaur found in the Patagonia region of Argentina (been there!), which in addition to being notable for its size is also notable for how much of it was found:

Lacovara says those other estimates are based on a mere smattering of bones, or on analyses that haven’t yet been subjected to peer review. In contrast, the estimate of Dreadnoughtus’ size and weight was based on measurements of more than 100 separate elements, including most of the tail vertebrae, a yard-long (meter-long) neck vertebra, numerous ribs and nearly all the bones from the forelimbs and hindlimbs.

Researchers unearthed about 45 percent of the skeleton’s full complement of bones, representing 70 percent of the bone types found below the skull (for example, a left rib without the mirror-image right rib).

Very impressive to find so much of it. Too bad they didn’t find the skull, as well.

Wait, no skull?

Hmm

Yeah, I’m sure that it’s just a coincidence

Jim Downey



“Strange how paranoia can link up with reality now and then.”*

When you see news like this in the mainstream press…

Rogue Cell Towers Could Be Intercepting Your Call

It seems rather far fetched at first glance. There is news that came out last week that rogue cell phone towers around the US are forcing mobile devices to disable their encryption making it possible that someone might be able to listen in to your call. “That could never happen to me,” you think out loud. But, apparently it could.

In 2010 at the DEF CON in Las Vegas, security researcher Chris Paget did the unthinkable. He built a cell tower of his own so that he could spoof legitimate towers and intercept calls.The device would mimic the type used by law enforcement agencies to intercept phone calls. In this case, he was able to build it for roughly $1500 US. Paget’s device would only capture 2G GSM phone calls. Carriers such as AT&TT -0.06% and T-Mobile would be vulnerable as they use GSM, unlike Verizon which relies on CDMA technology.

… it’s easy to feel a little paranoid. But is this a real threat? Has anyone actually seen things like this ‘in the wild’?

Yup:

Rogue ‘Cell Towers’ Can Intercept Your Data; At Least One Found In Chicago

So-called rogue cell phone towers, the type that can intercept your mobile calls and data, are cropping up all over the United States, including here in Chicago, according to a company that specializes in developing highly secure mobile phones.

* * *

CBS 2 security analyst Ross Rice, a former FBI agent, said it’s likely being used illegally.

“I doubt that they are installed by law enforcement as they require a warrant to intercept conversations or data and since the cell providers are ordered by the court to cooperate with the intercept, there really would be no need for this,” Rice said.

“Most likely, they are installed and operated by hackers, trying to steal personal identification and passwords.”

Great. Just great.

Well, what can you do? There are some smart phones out there which are designed to thwart this kind of security threat. And I’ve mentioned another option previously. And now there’s a company with a whole line of clothing based on similar RF-blocking technology:

Kickstarting a line of Orwell-inspired clothes with radio-shielding pockets

“The 1984 Collection” is a line of clothing for men and women with removable, snap-in pockets that act as radio-shields for slipping your devices and tokens (cards, phones, etc) into to stop them from being read when you’re not using them.

Hmm … let’s see, there’s a passage from Chapter One of St Cybi’s Well that comes to mind:

Darnell stepped close to her, said in a low voice, “Give me your hand-held.”

She looked at him, raised an eyebrow. “Why?”

“I don’t want to make it too easy for anyone to listen in.”

“Really, Dar, or is this some kind of joke?”

“Really.”

She looked him in the eye, pulled her phone out of her small purse, held it out to him. “Here.”

“Either turn it off or put it into offline mode.”

She fiddled with it a moment then handed it over. He took it and dropped it into the RF-blocking pocket in his satchel. “Thanks.”

“Couldn’t I just have turned it off?”

“Nope. They can still turn it on remotely and activate the mic. This pocket,” he patted the satchel where he had put the phone, “blocks the signal. It isn’t perfect, but it’s pretty good protection.”

I guess I need to get back into the habit of using my RF-shielding pocket.

 

Jim Downey

*Philip K. Dick, of course.



All bound together.

Today’s excerpt from St Cybi’s Well. The scene takes place at Gumfreston Church, outside Tenby:

He glanced up the way to the parking lot beyond the wall. His was still the only car there. Then he turned and followed the walkway further down the hill, past the church building. Partway down the hill a modern bench sat amongst the ancient graves, overlooking the secluded little niche containing the group of three wells. They were all clustered together, with fairly recent fieldstone platforms and walk around them.

Darnell went down directly, paused just before the first of the three. There were simple little white crosses painted onto some football-sized rocks beside the path. Small ribbons and bells were tied to trees and bushes nearby. On some of the rocks, and on the edges of the platforms, were the burnt-ends of candles. Clearly, this was still a place of pilgrimage.

He stepped onto the narrow platform, and once again could feel that strumming, that flowing energy he had felt in St David’s. Some yards away, sheltering the site from the outside world, were thick curtains of vines, still full leafed and deep green from summer, draping down from massive ancient trees. This added to the sense of the place being somewhat apart, special.

He knelt down, reached his hand to the surface of the first well. It bubbled slightly, but was otherwise clear and without a strong odor. He could feel a brightness, a clear sparkling energy to it.

The middle spring was slightly cloudy, with a ruddy kind of moss all along the bottom and sides of the pool and the little stream which left from it. Placing his hand lightly on the surface, he could feel a deeper, somewhat darker energy. Not darker in a negative sense, but one of earthiness, like the rich loam of a well-cared-for garden.

The third and lower spring had some element of that ruddiness to it, but it also had a distinct aroma of sulfur – distinct, but not overpowering. Touching the surface of that pool Darnell felt what could almost have been heat, though the water was still cool to the touch. Rather, it was as though the energy was intense, as if it were coming from a fire.

Kneeling there, reaching down, it almost felt like praying. He smiled to himself, and got up. Going back up the path, he sat on the bench overlooking the wells, and considered them.

Brightness, sparkling, as in the air. Richness, as the loam of the earth. Intense, as in fire. All bound together with water, flowing and mingling.

Little wonder this site was still on the pilgrim’s path.

 

Jim Downey



It’s a Mil-Tech SF future; we’re just living in it.

Yeah, it’s cool and all, but I can’t be the only one who looked at the news about Google X’s Drone Program

A zipping comes across the sky.

A man named Neil Parfitt is standing in a field on a cattle ranch outside Warwick, Australia. A white vehicle appears above the trees, a tiny plane a bit bigger than a seagull. It glides towards Parfitt, pitches upwards to a vertical position, and hovers near him, a couple hundred feet in the air. From its belly, a package comes tumbling downward, connected by a thin line to the vehicle itself. Right before the delivery hits the ground, it slows, hitting the earth with a tap.

… and thinks “generation 1.0 Hunter-seeker“, right? I mean, this basically jumps from needing a large military drone to having a backpack assassination tool. Why worry about collateral damage with a missile when you can just drop a cigarette-pack lump of high explosive in someone’s lap, using a cell phone and facial-recognition software to make sure of your specific target?

Or how I look at the self-driving car and think “hmm, add a Ma Deuce and/or 30mm cannon, and you’ve a small autonomous tank”.

Yeah, OK, perhaps I’m just too cynical. But human nature being what it is, you’ve gotta think that there was a reason why DARPA has been behind the development of these technologies …

 

Jim Downey

 



“I’m here to challenge assumptions of normal…”

This piece by Kameron Hurley is quite good. It’s about using fiction to shape expectations and open imaginations. Here’s a good excerpt:

Even our nonfiction perpetuates this idea that the way we are today is the way we’ve always been, or will ever be. I saw my first few episodes of Cosmos this week, a show I probably would have interrogated less before I started untangling the stories we tell ourselves are history. As with every other depiction of “early humans” this one showed a recognizable, to us, family group: women holding children, a couple men out hunting, maybe grandma off to one side. They looked like the limited family groups we knew from popular media, instead of the likely far more complicated ones that they moved in during their time: four women and two men stripping a carcass, two men out gathering, an old man watching after the children, two old women tending the fire. The truth is that every archaeologist and historian is limited by their own present in interpreting the future. So when Americans and Europeans talk about early humans, they don’t talk so much about early humans in Africa, even if that’s where we all came from. When we talk about early humans, they’re always hairy, pelt-wearing pale folks hacking out a living on some ice sheet. The men are always out hunting (like good 1950’s office workers!) while women stay in camp to dawdle babies on their knees. In fact, small family groups like these could not afford truly specialized roles until the advent of agriculture. Before that, folks needed to work together even more closely to survive — every member pulled their weight, whether that was looking after young children, gathering food, or herding some big mammal off a cliff and stripping it for meat.

 

Couldn’t agree more. In fact, here’s a passage from Chapter 2 of Communion of Dreams, and this element was built into that book for precisely the reasons she discusses:

Down at the end of a cul-de-sac was his family’s residence. A couple of the large, old homes which were built in the ‘90’s served as the bookends of the compound, with additional structures between and behind them forming an open triangle. Group families of various configurations had become the norm in the few decades since the flu. Almost everyone who survived the flu was left infertile, even the very young, and the children who were born were themselves likely to be infertile. Children had become critically important, treasured above all else. Group families formed naturally as a way of raising more children in a secure environment, with shared responsibility. Those adults who were fertile came to be cherished and protected by the others. Couples still tended to pair-bond, as in Jon’s family, but formed a small collective, or extended family structure. In some ways it was an older form of the family, a survival strategy from deep in mankind’s racial memory.

 

And, unsurprisingly, even this fairly tame variation on what a ‘family’ is has gotten criticism from some reviewers.

Anyway, Hurley’s piece isn’t very long, and is well worth the read.

 

Jim Downey

 



Almost.

I keep forgetting to watch Jodorowsky’s Dune … about the movie adaptation which was almost made.  This item from Open Culture will give you a taste of what it might have been like:

Moebius’ Storyboards & Concept Art for Jodorowsky’s Dune

A decade before David Lynch’s flawed but visually brilliant adaptation of Dune hit the silver screen (see our post on that from Monday), another cinematic visionary tried to turn Frank Herbert’s cult book into a movie. And it would have been a mind-bogglingly grand epic.

 

And be sure to check out the still images. Great stuff, and would have made one hell of a Science Fiction movie. Perhaps a completely *bonkers* one, but nonetheless …

 

Jim Downey

 




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